So a new year is here, and a different anniversary is rapidly approaching: one year of this blog!
*Fweeeep!* (that’s the sound of those cheap party hooters they used to give us in the goodie bags at birthday parties when we were kids).
To mark whichever of those two occasions is more significant, I thought I’d look back on the last 365 attempted hangovers and see which ones I liked best. Now two warnings.
First of all, caveat lector: these are my opinions, and are meant for recreational use only. Don’t take them seriously. The second warning is this: I haven’t actually made any trophies for the recipients of these awards. If anyone feels strongly about this, they can feel free to craft their own ones. I suggest a tiny statuette of me, holding a pint. Or maybe I’ll just spray paint bottles gold and send them to the winners. If they ask really nicely.
Anywho, let’s get started.
The Green Bottle Piss Award for Best Lager
If I were ever to open a brewery, I’d make the most awesome Pilsner possible, then call it “Green Bottle Pils”, using a font where the L’s and S’s looked remarkably similar. I’d then probably serve it on tap exclusively, or in brown bottles just to be obtuse. But anyway, if I did make a Pilsner, it would probably be as close to the winner of this award as possible; and that is Panhead Port Road Pilsner (5.2%).
I’m not really much of a Pilsner drinker, but if I find myself making exceptions, it’s usually for this beer.
Feel Good Hit of the Summer Award for Best Light, Wheat or ‘Sessionable’ Thing
Eagle eyed readers will note that I already gave this award out months ago. That was back when I thought I’d give seasonal awards progressively over the year, rather than in one big orgy at the end. So once again, the winner is 8 Wired Haywired (4.6%).
Now, not all of my awards are going to beers. I think it’s also important to give awards to the people and places and things that make the beer community special. So in that regard:
The Special Award for Services to My Alcoholism (A.K.A. Best Beer Bar Award)
Now this is tricky. I’ve stated before that Hashigo Zake is in my opinion, the best beer bar in New Zealand. But something about my personality won’t allow me to give this award to a bar I’ve worked at. So that means Hashigo is out, and Golding’s is too. Seeing as I didn’t travel much in New Zealand this year, that leaves…
The Rogue and Vagabond
I sense this is a controversial choice, but one I’m sticking to. I’ve heard a lot of criticism towards the Rogue, and I think a lot of it is valid *cough* bathrooms *cough*. But still I spend a hell of a lot more time there than I do at pretty much any other bar. The reasons are multiple: first of all, the staff are always trying to get me drunk. But I also get a sense of Gemütlichkeit whenever I go there. It’s got more character in each of its slightly uncomfortable barstools than all the Residences, Brus on Cuba, The Georges, or Curry Clubs of Wellington put together.
The ‘Doing Bad Cornish Accent Whilst Drunk’ Award for Best Cider
The world of New Zealand cider is a dark and scary place, populated by people with unconvincing Swedish accents and a race of weird anthropomorphic animals, who appear cute, but I’m pretty sure if we turned our backs on them for even a moment, they’d pull off their faces to reveal a race of alien space-lizards that will devour us whole.
It’s with this in mind, that I thank all known deities for Peckham’s. They’re lovely people, who make lovely cider. My particular cider of the year is the Wild Fermented Kingston Black (5.8%). Thank you Peckham’s. If I ever develop Celiacs I’m going to move in next door to you.
The Emerson’s Special Award for Selling Out
Oh don’t look at me like that. That’s exactly what Emerson’s did: they SOLD THEIR OWNERSHIP to Lion. That is the literal definition of selling out. Anyway, I bring up the Lion connection because it’s pertinent. But I’m going to get to that in a moment, because I’m going to start with the runner up:
Yes, when I heard they had NZ distribution I went “Aww YES!” Then when I heard it was with Independent Liquor (Asahi’s bastard child), and saw BrewDog plastered all over some of the worst bars of Wellington, I said “Aww NO!” I would have been willing to forgive them for the sake of the beer, but it’s not even traveled well. The only ones that still taste good are Hardcore and Dogma, but even then it’s not worth it for how much you have to pay and how unsatisfying the whole experience is. Every time I walk past The Residence or Bru on Cuba, with their BrewDog logos plastered everywhere, I just can’t help thinking about John Lydon shilling butter.
Back to Emerson’s now. You might think I get angry when the big boys try and play in the craft sector, but I don’t. For the most part it just makes me laugh; watching Monteith’s pretend they’ve invented dry-hopping, or Pinot-aging beer or whatever.
And you know who else is laughing? Lion. Because they’ve shown us exactly how a corporate brewer should get involved in the craft sector: Purchase a beloved brewing company, and then busily set about doing pretty much nothing to it. What you shouldn’t do is buy up a brewery, replace all the beers with pretty much your own product and put them in bottles that are pretty much identical to your existing range.
That’s right, this award goes to Founders. Yet another thing Independent Liquor/Boundary Road/Asahi has buggered up this year. Taking out first AND second place. Well done you, Foundry Road.
I get the feeling that narrow, sans serif fonts are all Boundary Road’s Designer knows how to use.
The Stout, Porter or Other Dark Award for Beers The Same Colour As My Soul
I agonized a little over this one. It’s possibly a case of too many great contenders. I wanted to give it to a few of my old favourites: Renaissance Elemental, Cassel’s Milk Stout, or Three Boys Oyster Stout, Invercargill Pitch Black. But that felt like choosing which of my beloved children was my favourite. In the end I felt like I should give this award to a newcomer, and I chose Kereru For Great Justice Coconut Porter (4.5%). I think if there is one thing Kereru has nailed it’s the <5% dark beer. Both FGJ and it’s unflavoured brother, Moonless Stout, are pretty much as perfect as any dark beer can be.
I find this equal parts cute and perplexing.
Die Lederhosen-Freizone Preis für den besten Bierfest
The award for best beer festival I attended in 2013 pretty much has to go to Hashigo Zake’s Pacific Beer Expo, after the rave review I posted recently. And so it does. Well done PBE!
The Irish Suntan Award for Paleness
I agonised pretty hard over exactly which Pale Ale to give this coveted award to. So in the end I said ‘fuck it: I’m giving it to the entire style category.’ That’s right, if you’re a brewer who’s made a good beer that’s ~5%, hop driven, with a decent malt backbone, you win. Not just this award either, but at beer in general.
Seriously, Pale Ales are the in-thing, and not just right now, but (if America is anything to go by) for the foreseeable future. At Golding’s and Hashigo, they’re the only thing that consistently sells faster than Pilsner. They’re pretty much a licence to print money.
Recipients of this award include, but are not limited to:
– Tuarara APA (both versions)
– Panhead Supercharger
– ParrotDog DeadCanary
– Townshend APA
– Croucher Pale Ale
– Epic Pale Ale
– Funk Estate Oh Lordy!
– Liberty Oh Brother
– Behemoth Chur!
– Garage Project Trip Hop
– Brew Moon IPA
– Hallertau Statesman
Feel free to mentally add beer I’ve missed here.
The Tey-Tappers Special Award for Best Beer Writer
I don’t often read a lot of New Zealand beer writing. This is mostly because, working in the industry, I’ve already heard most of it before the print deadline hits. There are however, a couple of exceptions.
Runner up for this award goes to Jono Galuszka, for his rather pleasant From Drinker to Brewer series and for bringing a little beer enlightenment to the murkier sections of the North Island. Jono hits the right tone between geeky and accessible. Well done Jono.
Possibly most handsome Beer Writer award too. You decide…
And the winner is: Matt Rilkoff.
Yup, that right. The man who describes craft beer as ‘petulant’, ‘complex and haughty’ and ‘prohibitively expensive’. The guy who thinks Tiger is the be all and end all of beer. The one who fellates any company that sends him free beer. The chap who barely seem to like any kind of beer that’s not limp, boring lager. The fellow who doesn’t even seem to like drinking beer and writing about it. Yup. That’s my beer writer of the year.
Here’s my favourite Rilkoff quote:
“Professional beer tasting is often a lonely job. Far from having People flock to you for beer tips, they resent you for the beer you get to drink and castigate you if you show anything but absolute reverence for craft beer. It’s tough.”
Um… No mate, it’s not. You’re getting paid to drink beer and writing about it. If you’re not enjoying that, then as the actress said to the Bishop: You’re doing it wrong. You’re missing the point so hard, it’s surprising the Americans haven’t offered you a job as their Bomber Command.
Now having said that, Rilkoff is genuinely my beer writer of the year, because I seriously enjoy his writing. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, because I suspect it’s a mild form of Schadenfreude that I’m experiencing. But since he’s not actually suffering misfortunes here (in fact he’s being paid to write about beer… seriously mate, if you don’t like doing it, I’ll do it for you), then I feel I can laugh at his columns without being an asshole.
(Un)Fortunately, it seems that most of the Taranaki Daily News’ beer writing is now done by Warwick Foy; who is much more qualified (in that he enjoys, well, flavours). But don’t ever want Rilkoff to stop writing about beer. He’s just too enjoyable to read.
The IPA Award for Services to the Hop Shortage
This again, was a very tough award to give. The reason is just too many worthy candidates. After a little soul searching though, I came up with an answer. The award goes to not one beer, but a series of them: Twisted Hop Hopback Series (5.8%).
This is an NZ Cascade-based beer, that uses different American hops in the different editions. The base beer is lovely, but the Citra, Simcoe, Centennial and Chinook editions each have their own unique charms. Then there’s the Double Hopback (8%) an imperialised version which reminds me of a super-juicy American Barleywine.
I will say that I would like to see some slightly dirtier, more bitter and angry, non-c-type hop versions of this beer (eg Sauvin). But over all, I award the Hopback series for it’s balance between being geeky as hell, yet still all excellent IPAs.
The Moa Special Award for Biggest Dick Move of 2013
In such a small industry, it would be nice if we could all be friends, but the reality is, that’s not always going to be the case. I’ve seen a fair amount of dickish behavior from industry people. Moa should probably be awarded this trophy indefinitely, having a virtual monopoly on being a dick in the craft beer industry. But that would also be like shooting fish in a barrel and as global fish populations are under threat right now, I’m not going to do that.
Anyway, I think the biggest dick moves are ones that undermine the ethos and integrity of the craft industry as whole. We are small companies fighting for market share against big corporations. We are supposed to help each other out, not dick each other over. As Soren Eriksen once explained it to me (in his sexy Danish accent):
“In the craft beer industry, it’s not about getting a bigger piece of the pie; it’s about growing the pie. As the pie gets bigger, each of our pieces gets bigger.”
This is the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ attitude. In this regard, when a craft-beer company wants to expand, they should look for unexploited niches and opportunities, they should collaborate with others around them, or they should build upon and expand their current operations. What they shouldn’t do is look at someone else’s piece of the pie and say “I’ll have that!” and try to hack off a chunk before anyone notices.
Yeah I’m looking at you, Tuatara. Trying to steal Rogue distribution off of Beer Without Borders/Hashigo Zake. A local brewery trying to increase business by importing and distributing beer from overseas? That’s cool. Importing and distributing a brewery that’s already legitimately being brought into the country by another dedicated craft beer distributor? That’s not cool. That’s a dick move.
The Pucker-Up Award for Best Sour Beer
I’m going to start with the runner up here: Mussel Inn Lean Lamb (4%). It’s weird, dirty, bacterial, borderline disgusting and fucking sour. Love it.
The Winner: Liberty/Zeffer How do You Like Dem Apples (10%). I like tart cider, I like sour beer. Dem Apples is pretty much the best of both worlds.
The “Am I Drunk Yet?” Award for Best Strong/Imperial/Strong Belgian/Whatever Beer
This one goes to 8 Wired Grand Cru (10%). There’s nothing I can say about it that I haven’t already said here.
It’s laughing at me. I want to brush my teeth with it.
The Bastard Upstart Award for Best New Brewery.
To the uninitiated, it probably would seem like the winner of this award has appeared out of nowhere, making a varied range of excellent beers that can be found all over Wellington. Industry insiders on the other hand, have known the brewer for quite a few years.
Still it amazes me sometimes that six months ago I ever managed to fill a balanced tap lineup without Panhead Brewery. When they opened, I had suddenly at my disposal, a brewery with a slick image and branding, reliable delivery, instant popularity, and most importantly, great beer. If I was religious I’d forgive myself for thinking they’re the second coming of Christ.
Mike from Panhead is not Jesus, but he does have a nice beard.
Speaking of which:
The “Jesus-Rollerblading-Christ!” Award for Single Pint of Beer I Enjoyed The Most.
So named after the exclamation I made whilst drinking it. I wanted to give this award to the bottle of Lagunitas IPA I drank whilst sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge.
This was pretty fuckin’ sweet.
But there was one other beer I enjoyed more; that made me shout “Jesus-Rollerblading-Christ, that’s fucking good!”
It was a pint of Townshend Black Arrow Pilsner (5%). It was at Hashigo in the middle of Summer, I’d just come from an hours worth of strenuous Charlestoning, I was exhausted and sweaty and I think the whole pint only lasted thirty seconds.
The Green Bean Saison Award for Fruit/Spiced/Flavoured/Otherwise Meddled With Beer
Choosing a winner for this award was tricky, as we had two
gangs breweries each with a gaggle of experimentally flavoured beers. On one side, there’s Yeastie Boys, with it’s posse of serious-faced tea-beers, led by the charismatic Gunnamatta (6.5%). Opposing them was Garage Project with their ethnic mob of chilli beers, fronted by their spicy leader, Day of the Dead (6%). And choosing a winner from this lot is like watching a gang knife-fight, in that no one’s the winner, or in our case, everyone’s the winner in the end.
Short of an actual knife-fight between brewers, which I’m sure we don’t want, I’m going to settle the matter by awarding thus:
Runner Up to Yeastie Boys Wendy (6.5%), the Belgian tea stout. The winner goes to Garage Project Venusian Pale Ale (7.5%). Those being the two beers from the lot I actually want to drink the most of.
Awesome poster, too.
The Old-Hand Award for Best Established Brewery
I like to think of the winner of this award as the (slightly) older chap in the corner, who very quietly does what he does and does it very well, whilst the young guns (usually contractors) are standing around making a hullabaloo about their big, outrageous beers. Then once in a while, when he feels like it, he gets up, takes them all outside and shows them all how it’s done.
I’m talking about Renaissance Brewing, that reliable (relatively) old workhorse who we don’t always pay enough attention to. They make a range of really great beers that we don’t see on tap as often as we should. then every now and again, they whip out something truly amazing, like their annual Tribute Barleywine (10%), their Age of Raisin (6.5%), or their Scotch on Rye (4.5%).
Renaissance won Champion Brewer at last years BrewNZ awards (which I totally called). And I honestly think they deserve it. I love those guys so much.
The Renaissance crew at the BrewNZ Awards. Yes, their Brewer Andy wears a kilt.
The Bottleneck’s Beer of the Year
The beer I enjoyed the most this year, is probably the same beer I enjoy the most every year. If I had a beer-soulmate, it would probably be this beer. It’s the only beer I drank three pints of in a row, something I never do when I had the option of drinking something else.
It’s 8 Wired ReWired Brown Ale (5.7%).
Not an exciting, obvious or even perhaps deserving choice. It’s just a beer I really, really like. Yeah I know that’s terrible consumer advice. Kind of illustrates the pointlessness of personal blog awards, really…
Oh well, too late. You’ve read it now.